An introduction to the Gender Equality Act 2020 and this Intersectionality at Work report, including methodology and structure of the report.

The Commission for Gender Equality in the Public Sector

The Commission for Gender Equality in the Public Sector (the Commission or CGEPS) was established after the Gender Equality Act 2020 (Vic) (the Act) passed in February 2020. The Commission supports the Public Sector Gender Equality Commissioner (the Commissioner) to oversee the implementation of the Act and promote gender equality in the public sector workforce and the broader Victorian community. 

The Act is a ground-breaking piece of legislation that requires certain public sector organisations in Victoria to take positive action towards achieving gender equality in the workplace and the community. It does so by requiring these organisations to: 

  1. Report on key gender equality measures by undertaking a workplace gender audit every 2 years; 
  2. Demonstrate how they plan to improve gender equality in their organisation by developing a Gender Equality Action Plan every 4 years; 
  3. Make reasonable and material progress in relation to the Act’s workplace gender equality indicators every two years; and 
  4. Account for the gendered impacts of all policies, programs and services with significant public impact by undertaking gender impacts assessments. 

Organisations with obligations under the Act (referred to as ‘defined entities’) include all Victorian public sector organisations with 50 or more employees as at June 30 each year, as well as local councils and universities.

The Act represents an ambitious step up in equality law in Australia, by imposing a positive duty on defined entities to consider and promote gender equality. It is also the first piece of Australian legislation to officially acknowledge the potential for compounding effects of multiple forms of disadvantage or discrimination. This focus on the way in which gender inequality can be compounded by other forms of inequality was a key request from community groups and other participants during the Act’s consultation process. 

For a more detailed background to the Act and the Commission, please see the companion to this report, the Baseline report (2022).

This report

Organisations covered by the Act are subject to several obligations that require them to take positive and transparent action (and make meaningful progress) towards achieving gender equality in their workplaces, public policies, programs and services. For the first time under Australian gender equality reporting legislation, these organisations are encouraged to provide data disaggregated not only by gender, but across a range of attributes listed in the legislation:

  • Aboriginality
  • age
  • disability
  • ethnicity
  • gender identity
  • race
  • religion
  • sexual orientation
  • other attributes.

Through this data collection, organisations are encouraged to consider how experiences of disadvantage or discrimination on the basis of these attributes might compound or shape experiences of gender inequality. That is, organisations are encouraged to consider intersectionality. 

In this report, the Commission presents an analysis of the data collected by defined entities as part of the inaugural workplace gender audit under the Act undertaken in 2021. This analysis is combined with findings from projects funded as part of the Commission’s Research Grants Round 2022

This report is intended to be read as a companion piece to the Baseline report – 2021 workplace gender audit data analysis, which the Commission released in 2022 following the inaugural audit. The Baseline report presented a snapshot of the state and nature of gender equality across the 298 defined entities that were required to report under the Act at that time. In so doing, it offered the Commission, defined entities and the wider Victorian community a starting point for tracking change against the seven gender equality indicators under the Act (outlined below). In addition, it helped to locate the gaps and challenges for progressing gender equality in Victoria and offered insights into how defined entities can best target efforts towards positive change. 

Through its reporting platform, the Commission collected 67 million data points in 2021, which represents the most comprehensive gender-disaggregated dataset on public sector organisations in Australia. Despite the significance of the scope of this data, the inaugural audit also revealed several areas of limited data availability and poor data quality - particularly in relation to data about people who experience intersecting forms of disadvantage and discrimination. Many organisations required to report under the Act are continuing to develop the necessary human resources systems to collect data about employee identity in a sensitive manner. These data challenges at the organisational level translate into challenges for rigorous data analysis for the Commission. Additionally, the sensitive nature of data related to the personal attributes of individuals meant that the Commission felt a significant responsibility to analyse and represent this information accurately and meaningfully. For this reason, the Commission chose to release this separate report, allowing time to carefully interrogate the data and ensuring that the data about people experiencing intersecting forms of disadvantage and discrimination were given due focus and attention. 

What is intersectionality?

Intersectionality is a term that was coined in 1989 by Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw to explore how systems of power, such as gender, race, and class, ‘intersect’ to shape experiences of the social world. Originally set out in the context of legal scholarship, Crenshaw (1989) was concerned that legal decisions dealing with racial discrimination and sex-based discrimination were failing to conceptualise how, for example, Black women’s experiences are shaped by racism as well as sexism, and by a unique combination of both. In other words, Crenshaw argued that when Black women are treated as purely Black or purely women, the law is unable to account for the specific challenges they face – challenges which diverge from those faced by Black men or white women (see also Moraga and Anzaldúa 1981; Collins 1990).

Since 1989, public awareness of the importance of intersectionality for understanding issues of discrimination and disadvantage has grown dramatically.  While there are still debates in relation to intersectionality theory and its application (e.g. Collins and Chepp 2013; Cho and Segrave 2023), understanding how discrimination on the basis of attributes such as Aboriginality, age, disability, ethnicity, gender identity, race, religion, and/or sexual orientation can combine with gender discrimination to influence a person’s workplace experiences and outcomes is crucial to ensuring progress towards gender equality is progress for all. 

Measuring and applying intersectionality 

Approaches to ‘doing’ intersectionality in the workplace, including applying an intersectional lens to workforce data, are still being developed and often have limitations (Blackham et al. 2024 forthcoming). Despite these challenges, considering intersectionality in workplace equality initiatives is important. The Commission is committed to continuous improvement in relation to fulfilling the intersectional objectives of the Act, and to helping defined entities build their capability to progress intersectional gender equality. 

In this report, the Commission has only been able to consider the kinds of inequalities produced by gender-based discrimination and one other axis of marginalisation, for example, gender and disability, or gender and Aboriginality. In reality, the lives of Victorians are much more complex than this. For example, people with disability may also be members of the LGBTIQ+ community, have demanding caring responsibilities, live in rural towns without adequate services, and/or belong to migrant communities (for further information on gendered experiences in rural contexts, see Tischler et al. 2023). Accounting for these differences is crucial to understanding the lived experiences of Victorian employees.  However, while generalisations can mask significant variations in the experiences of members within a marginalised group, they are often necessary to identify broader trends. The ‘gender-plus-one-other-attribute’ approach here is designed to focus on patterns of systemic inequality and respond to practical considerations related to the data.

Finally, the Commission shines a spotlight on groups which face discrimination and disadvantage in this report, but it does not mean to imply that these groups are disempowered. Instead, the report strives to centre their voices as well as their ongoing activism and courage in the face of systemic discrimination. In the past, government data collection about marginalised groups was sometimes used against those groups (D’Ignazio and Klein 2020; Kukutai and Taylor 2016). Collecting data about people therefore comes with responsibility, and the Commission is committed to using data to drive positive social change. Better data is key to driving change initiatives which are responsive to the lived experiences of employees. Their voices and partnerships are crucial for providing the necessary scaffolding to accurately interpret quantitative data points. The Commission engaged lived-experience expertise at various points in the development of this report, as outlined below.



Under the Act, every defined entity was required to undertake a workplace gender audit in order to assess the state and nature of gender inequality in its workplace as at 30 June in the Gender Equality Action Plan reporting year. The first reporting year was 2021.

The Commission for Gender Equality in the Public Sector published workplace gender audit guidance in 2020 to advise defined entities of how to undertake a workplace gender audit. 

The workplace gender audit required the collection of gender-disaggregated data – which is data that is broken down separately for women, men and gender diverse people – against the 7 workplace gender equality indicators set out in the Act. The indicators are:

  • gender composition of all levels of the workforce
  • gender composition of governing bodies
  • equal remuneration for work of equal or comparable value across all levels of the workforce, irrespective of gender
  • sexual harassment in the workplace
  • recruitment and promotion practices in the workplace
  • availability and utilisation of terms, conditions and practices relating to family violence leave, flexible working arrangements and working arrangements supporting workers with family or caring responsibilities
  • gendered segregation within the workplace.

If available, defined entities were also required to report data about Aboriginality, age, disability, ethnicity, gender identity, race, religion and sexual orientation and were required to have regard to the disadvantage or discrimination that a person may experience on the basis of these attributes in addition to gender inequality (i.e. compounded or intersectional gender inequality). 

Data measures and types

As part of the 2021 workplace gender audit, organisations covered by the Act collected two categories of data – workforce data and employee experience data. The workforce data was extracted from defined entities’ internal data collection systems and provided to the Commission through an Excel template that was uploaded through the Commission’s reporting platform. The employee experience data was collected through surveys.

Information provided to the Commission for Gender Equality in the Public Sector was managed in line with relevant privacy laws. Defined entities were responsible for their own compliance with relevant privacy laws, including the Privacy and Data Protection Act 2014 (Vic) (PDP Act). 

Workplace gender audit data quality

The most common issue observed with audit submissions was missing data. The inaugural audit was the most comprehensive workforce data collection exercise many organisations had ever undertaken, so some gaps in datasets were anticipated by the Commission.

Aside from age and gender, the Commission learnt that most organisations do not yet collect the demographic data required for intersectional analysis. Because of this, the anonymous People matter survey, outlined below, is the primary source of data analysed in this report.

Furthermore, the 2021 workplace gender audit also contained very little workforce data in relation to gender diverse employees. While the People matter survey data that is the focus of this report included trans and gender-diverse respondents, the number of respondents in these groups who identified themselves as also being a First Nations person, a person with disability, or from a culturally and racially marginalised background were too few to meaningfully analyse. As such, the experiences of trans and gender-diverse employees are primarily discussed in Chapter 5, which examines LGBTIQ+ workers specifically. In this report, the Commission acknowledges this lack of data on trans and gender-diverse people has meant that issues are generally only able to be analysed and discussed for women and men.

Employee experience data and the People matter survey

In order to fulfil the employee experience data component of the workplace gender audit in 2021, organisations had three options:

  1. undertake the People matter survey or the People matter survey for local government (collectively referred to in this report as the People matter survey, or PMS) administered by the Victorian Public Sector Commission (VPSC)
  2. use a third-party provider to independently administer the survey
  3. conduct the survey in-house.

The VPSC administered the questions required by the Commission for Gender Equality in the Public Sector via the People matter survey to about 90% of organisations covered by the Act. Each organisation covered by the Act was surveyed separately, and the results were reported as percentages of respondents. Items with fewer than 10 responses were suppressed by the survey provider to protect respondents’ privacy.

The VPSC also provided the raw survey data for all participating defined entities to the Commission in late 2022. That is, the Commission has access to a results database that includes the responses to the required 2021 workplace gender audit questions from each individual respondent in a participating defined entity. The analyses undertaken in this report using People matter survey data are based on this raw data. This allows the Commission to calculate percentages for different groups across the whole dataset.

In this report, the Commission’s analysis of the People matter survey data includes data from all defined entities that participated in the survey. This includes local government organisations who opted to take part. It excludes any organisation which was not a defined entity in 2021 but has since become so. It also excludes universities, bodies which do not take part in the People matter survey, or any public sector organisation that was eligible to participate in the People matter survey, but opted out. 

It is important to note that the People matter survey data analysed here is a different sample to that used by the Victorian Public Sector Commission. The VPSC’s reporting of the People matter survey results does not include local government organisations. It does, however, include smaller public sector organisations that do not meet the threshold to become defined entities under the Act. These differences are responsible for any discrepancies between these analyses.

It is also important to acknowledge the differences between the analyses contained in this report, and the data presented in the Commission’s 2022 Baseline report. The Baseline report primarily analysed the 2021 workplace gender audit workforce data. As such, workforce figures reported reflect the total number of employees reported on by organisations that completed a 2021 audit. Because the current report draws more extensively on the People matter survey data, the figures are reporting on a different population. Not only does the People matter survey data only cover approximately 90% of organisations with reporting obligations under the Act, but individual employees also choose whether or not to complete the survey. As such, rates of – for example – part-time work reported in the People matter survey may differ from rates of part-time work reported in the workforce data. Any apparent discrepancies between the Baseline report and this Intersectionality report stem from the different populations being examined.

Key characteristics of the People matter survey dataset analysed here by the Commission are that:

  • The sample included 106,069 respondents of which 30% (31,443 people) were men, 58% (61,706 people) were women, 1% (580 people) were non-binary, 0.3% (347 people) reported a self-described gender and 11% (11,993 people) of people opted to not report a gender
  • The VPSC reported survey results had an overall response rate of 39% - the Local Government portion of the survey had a 32% response rate
  • The salary distribution of respondents does not match those found in the workforce data reported to the Commission, with people on lower salaries over-represented in the survey.

It should also be noted that some participants elected to use the available free-text field to describe their gender, rather than selecting from the available options. These responses have been excluded from the analysis in this report. This is because these responses are not homogenous and cannot be analysed as a group. In addition, given these respondents explicitly chose not to select from the available options, they cannot be integrated into the existing gender categories as it would not be appropriate to make assumptions about what category to include them in. 

Estimated pay gap calculation

Because of the significant gaps in the intersectional workforce data submitted to the Commission, it was not possible to calculate accurate pay gaps using the exact salaries of employees in defined entities. Instead, a measure for estimated pay gaps was developed by assigning base salaries in the workforce data (i.e., actual salaries recorded in payroll systems) to the People matter survey base salary ranges selected by diverse respondents. Respondents to the People matter survey in 2021 were able to select their yearly income from salary brackets increasing in $10,000 increments. These ranged from ‘Less than $45,000’, followed by ‘$45,000-$54,999’, through to ‘$175,000-$184,999’ and finally ‘$185,000 or more’. Respondents were also given the option to select ‘Prefer not to say’.

To get a more accurate understanding of pay in particular organisations, median base salaries within every salary range were calculated for each defined entity and each industry group (so the mid-point of all reported salaries for that organisation or industry within each pay bracket). This median was taken from the workforce data for all employees (regardless of gender and other attributes). These median base salaries for each organisation and in each $10,000 bracket available in the People matter survey were then assigned to each respondent to the survey.

The median base salaries assigned to individual respondents to the survey were then used to calculate an overall median for each specific group that was reported on (e.g. ‘Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Women’ or ‘Men with disabilities’). This median for a particular cohort was then used to calculate an approximate pay gap between two specific groups.

These pay gaps are not calculated on the actual salaries of the individuals in each group and are therefore estimated only. 

Funded research Grants

In addition to the 2021 workplace gender audit data and the People matter survey, insights in this report are also drawn from research funded under the Commission’s Research Grants Round 2022. This round of funding was focussed on contextualising and deepening the Commission’s understanding of the inaugural audit data, primarily by applying an intersectional lens. Studies funded under the scheme were required to collect qualitative data to complement the quantitative audit data, and examine how experiences of gender inequality are shaped or compounded by other forms of discrimination or disadvantage.

The following 5 projects received funding:

In relation to the first 4 projects listed above, the research findings are principally discussed in chapters one, two, three and four respectively. The final project examining rural experiences in the public sector does not relate directly to a specific chapter in this report (or a specific intersectional attribute listed in the Act). Instead, insights from this important project are presented in a ‘special look’ section of this report.

Language, lived experience perspectives and gender-inclusivity

Preferred language and terminology used to identify and describe marginalised groups of people is constantly evolving. In this report, the Commission seeks to centre the voices of people with lived experience of discrimination. As such, wherever possible, the report adopts the preferred terminology of marginalised groups, while acknowledging that these conversations are far from settled.

Another way the Commission seeks to centre the voices of marginalised groups is through ensuring diverse perspectives contributed to this report. The funded research grants included in this report were led by academics with lived experience of the intersecting forms of inequality their grant examined, and participants in the studies had lived experiences of intersecting inequalities in public sector workplaces. In addition to this, the Commission invited lived-experience experts and other specialists to review the report in part or whole. These reviewers included:

The Commission would like to thank our research partners and participants, generous reviewers, and employees in our defined entities – especially those who work to drive gender equality for everyone in their organisations. While the Commission is thankful for these contributions, responsibility for the final version of this report rests with the Commission.

Lastly, there is very little workforce data and research in relation to gender-diverse Australians. This group also may not feel safe to disclose their gender in official contexts, including the workplace. As such, much of this report discusses gender in binary terms, reflecting the available data across both the broader research landscape, as well as within the Commission’s own data collection. The Commission expects that the Act will drive improved data collection and quality in Victoria to reflect the gender diversity that exists in our society. Changes in research and data collection are essential to make gender-diverse cohorts visible.

Structure of the report

In the Baseline report, the Commission used the 7 gender equality indicators under the Act to organise individual chapters. While this approach was extremely useful in the context of reporting on gender disaggregated data, it is less so in the context of intersectional data. All the groups highlighted here experience multiple forms of structural disadvantage, which tend to result in worse outcomes in relation to the indicators. 

To best highlight intersectional experiences, this report offers 5 chapters investigating how the intersection of gender and one other attribute shape discrimination and disadvantage in public sector workplaces. These are:

  • Gender and Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander employees
  • Gender and employees of different ages
  • Gender and employees with disabilities
  • Gender and culturally and racially marginalised employees
  • Gender and LGBTIQ+ employees.

The chapters are presented in the same order as each of these attributes in the Act. Each chapter begins by offering background information on the status of the group in Australian society, followed by a short literature review of key workplace issues impacting that group, with a focus on how these are gendered. This is followed by intersectional data analysis about the cohort, drawn from the Commission’s 2021 workplace gender audit, as well as an overview of findings drawn from the Commission’s Research Grants Round 2022. The Commission acknowledges that these chapters do not represent a comprehensive view of intersecting forms of discrimination in Victorian public sector workplaces. Rather, the 5 chapters reflect the data collected by the Commission about groups that experience systemic forms of disadvantage.

As discussed above, in the 2021 workplace gender audit, only a small proportion of defined entities returned reliable workforce data in relation to intersectional attributes. As such, the final ‘Recommendations’ chapter offers insights into tangible ways that defined entities can improve their approach to collecting data about marginalised groups, with a particular focus on privacy and ensuring employees feel safe to disclose sensitive information about themselves.